Vikings stadium bill on hold
ST. PAUL -- Dozens of Vikings fans decked out in purple jerseys rallied in the state Capitol Saturday, but went home disappointed after learning there would be no vote to build a new stadium.
It was not clear when, or if, they will be able to return to watch House and Senate debates on the decade-old issue. A planned Sunday vote in the Senate was postponed, and House leaders would not say when they might take it up.
Republican leaders said they put a higher priority on a tax-relief bill, and urged Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton to resume negotiations on that issue. A stadium "isn't what we are working on," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.
Once a tax bill is done, Zellers added, House leaders will see if "votes are there" for a stadium.
Stadium bill sponsors Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, have said they think they have enough votes to pass the bills.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, had said he planned to bring up the stadium bill Sunday, but Saturday night said the Senate will not meet on Sunday. The stadium could come up Monday, a self-imposed deadline to adjourn the 2012 legislative session, but Senjem said that depends on progress on tax proposals and a public works funding bill.
The state Constitution allows the Legislature to meet seven more days by May 21.
Zellers, the main backer of a Monday adjournment, said Saturday night that if "important" issues remain the session could go on longer. But he and House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, would not say if they thought there would be a stadium vote.
The speaker said it is clear that a stadium is Dayton's top priority.
As the fans chanted "save our team" outside the House chambers, Dayton and the Legislature's Democratic-Farmer-Laborite leaders asked Zellers to take up the bill right away.
Dayton said Lanning and Rosen put forth "heroic" efforts to get Vikings stadium construction bills through legislative committees and ready for votes in the House and Senate. Those votes are needed, he said, because fans, the team and the National Football League "deserve an up or down vote."
"This is Minnesota's chance to keep the Vikings in Minnesota," Dayton said.
After the stadium effort had stalled in both the House and Senate, Dayton said "this has proceeded remarkably in the last two weeks."
Zellers called a Saturday Dayton news conference asking for an immediate stadium vote "cheap politics," and asked the governor to return to negotiations on taxes and public works.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, promised 34 DFL votes for the current stadium plan after Zellers said he expected 34 Republican votes. That would be enough to pass a stadium bill.
Dayton, Thissen and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, placed all the responsibility for a stadium vote on Zellers.
Bakk said a dozen Democrats might support the stadium out of 67 senators.
GOP leaders want to adjourn for the year on Monday, but Bakk said there is no reason the Legislature cannot continue after that.
Stadium supporter Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said Thissen's announcement that 34 votes are available from his party was good news.
"If he has 34 votes, we are good," Kriesel said, turning away from watching the National Football League draft on his computer.
A Kriesel bill now carries the stadium construction plan that Lanning authored. He has been involved in writing the plan. But, he said, he has no say in when the measure is debated.
"That is way above my pay grade," Kriesel said.
Lanning and Rosen have said it will be difficult, if not impossible, to finish the stadium issue Monday. The two chambers likely will pass differing bills, so negotiators would need to work out the differences after the House and Senate pass their own measures.
The Vikings say they cannot make enough money at the home of 30 years, the downtown Minneapolis Metrodome.
While the Vikings will play under the inflatable dome for another year, even without a lease, their leaders say they need a decision from state legislators this year. Vikings and NFL officials do not say the team will leave the state, but Dayton and other stadium supporters that that just is what will happen if no stadium deal is reached.
Minneapolis, some state officials and the Vikings presented a plan weeks ago that would require the state to provide $398 million, Minneapolis $150 million and the Vikings and other private sources $427 million. The state portion of the funding would come from allowing charities that sponsor gambling to introduce electronic pulltab and bingo games, a move supporters say would more than pay off debt incurred from stadium construction.
The House plan also would allow sports-themed tip boards, games in which people bet on scores but not who wins a sports contest.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.